Back at the end of March, some of the Vineyard staff were lucky enough to go on a field trip to Calkins Creamery. The name should be familiar to our regular Vineyard customers, as they are the creators of the delicious Vampire Slayer cheese we get every year around Halloween. The cheese leads from Ramsey, Wayne, Dumont, and myself (Glen Rock), as well as Lauren and Joe, piled into two cars and made the two hour drive out to Honesdale, Pennsylvania. We were all excited as we pulled up to Highland Farm, where we were greeted by the owner, Jay Montgomery. His friendly, old dog, right along side Jay greeted us with a sniff-sniff and a tail wag. Jay and his wife, Emily, started up the creamery about 6 years ago to help out the farm, which had been in Emily’s family since the mid-1800s.
We first got to go into the barn, where all their Holstein cows are housed and cared for by Emily’s father and brother. It’s a “closed herd” which means that all their cows are bred on the property–they haven’t bought an outside cow in a couple decades. The cows are artificially inseminated and when the calves are born, the girls stay on the farm and the boys…well, you do know where veal comes from, right? All their dairy cows have to be pregnant or have had at least one calf, though the cows are not pregnant all the time–they are on a rotation. Because of this rotation, they have a calf born about every 10 days, year round.
The adorable babies are lined up on the outer wall of the barn, where they are cared for until it’s time for them to enter the rotation. The little ones were one of my favorite parts of the trip and I wished I could take one home with me (though I don’t think that lil cutie would have fit in Lauren’s car…). Jay shared with us that the most cows they’ve had at one time was 160, though only 80 can be milked at a time. About 30% of the milk produced by the cows goes right to the creamery.
After visiting the cows, we took a short drive to a neighboring property where their aging caves were located. The caves themselves are actually old wine cellars that are no longer in use, and the creamery converted to aging “caves.” Within the caves there’s a system to release water droplets as needed to maintain a certain amount of humidity. For a cheese to grow the molds needed to age properly, humidity needs to be kept around 80%, and the temperature between 39 and 48 degrees. If the temperature is too cold, the aging process takes longer, and when it is warmer it tends to be a little too fast. When we were in the caves it was a chilly 44 degrees, and just right.
Any cheese that is going to be aged for three months or longer gets sent to this cave. The cheeses rest on planks of hard wood from the area. Jay explained to us that only harder woods can be used to store cheeses because softer woods can harbor harmful bacteria. He also shared with us that Emily, who makes just about all the cheeses, comes down to the caves almost every day to maintain the aging cheeses. They are flipped about every two days and scrubbed and brined about every two weeks. Cheeses are only removed from the cave when they are ordered.
While we were down in the cave, Jay also shared with us that one of their popular cheeses, Smoke Signal, is sent to a guy called “The Eel Man,” who smokes the cheese for about 36 hours before they age it. This cheese is also special to the family because a portion of the profit from it goes to the Michael J. Bryant Memorial Fund, named for Emily’s younger brother who passed away a few years ago.
The next part of our tour we got to speak with Emily and see where she actually makes the cheese–a small building back on the farm, complete with another small aging room. The room where the cheese is actually made is an average size and doesn’t have as much equipment as you would find at a larger creamery–but that’s what makes Calkins so charming and intimate. We all got a kick out of the little blue booties that we had to wear over our shoes as part of their health and safety procedures.
It was really awesome to see where Emily actually makes the cheese and to see a few batches that were in the process of being made. Before this trip the only parts of the cheese-making process I had actually seen are from Googling pictures. To see it in person is something entirely different. In the rush of our Tri-State Area living, we don’t really stop and think about where our food comes from and all the work that is put into it for our enjoyment. It’s really amazing to see the entire process from cow to creamery to aging caves, and to see all the hard work, dedication, and love that Emily, Jay, and their family put into their products.
We concluded our tour with tasting some of the cheeses that Calkins produces. The best part? One of those cheeses is going to be the Cheese of the Month for May! Eager to know what we picked?…Well, you’re just gonna have to wait and be surprised!
Visiting Calkins Creamery was an amazing learning experience for the Vineyard staff, and we can’t wait to discuss it with you, our customers!